May 20, 2015 — Yesterday the highly contentious Blue Grass State Republican gubernatorial was decided … sort of. With no run-off system in Kentucky election law, the three major candidates who were in a virtual three-way tie in polls before the election wound up with about the same result after the election.
State Agriculture Secretary James Comer was viewed to be the early leader in the race, but accusations from former Louisville Metro Councilor Hal Heiner that Comer physically abused a girlfriend while in college effectively turned the race upside down. Charges and counter-charges flew between the two men for weeks, even including the appearance of the former girlfriend, and the after-effects weakened both candidates. And while the campaign turned nasty, businessman Matt Bevin, the wealthy investor who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Mitch McConnell in last year’s Republican primary, crafted a positive strategy designed to propel him above the fray created between the other two. You may remember that in the 2014 race, polling showed Bevin running close to the veteran senator but, in the end, the nomination contest evolved into a McConnell landslide.
But this time, the businessman’s plan clearly worked, and it may well have carried him to the nomination. From more than 214,000 Republican votes cast last night, Bevin clings to an 83-vote lead with 100 percent of the precincts reporting. Each man attracted approximately 33 percent of the vote. Heiner, who placed third with 27 percent, conceded. Former state Supreme Court Justice Will Scott finished a distant fourth at seven percent.
Now sitting in the catbird’s seat while the Republicans spend days, if not weeks, determining who actually won the election, is Democrat candidate Attorney General Jack Conway. As expected, he easily claimed his party’s nomination last night, scoring a 79-21 percent landslide victory over retired engineer and left-wing political activist Geoff Young. Considering the fractured status of the GOP contest, Conway will likely be considered the favorite when the general election begins in earnest. The eventual major party nominees will be running to succeed Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who is ineligible to seek a third term.
The only bright side in this scenario for the GOP is that Republican turnout was some 36,000 votes greater than their opponents, which could be a precursor for the general election. The intensity found among the tightly bunched candidates, however, naturally created more interest than the mundane Democratic contest that was virtually settled at the candidate filing deadline.
This campaign is yet another example of voters rejecting two negative candidates in a crowded field for a positive alternative. Comer has already requested a re-canvass of the votes, so the timing of winner certification is yet anyone’s guess. It is rare when the leading candidate going into a re-count does not surface as the eventual winner, therefore, Matt Bevin must now be considered a relatively heavy favorite to claim the GOP nomination.